The Entertainment Software Association (ESA) the trade association of the video game industry in the United States, estimates that there are 227 million across online casino and video game players in the U.S. Of that number, 28 percent are children and teens under the age of 18.
Some researchers estimate that upwards of 90% of U.S. teens and children play video games. Educators, mental health experts and child advocates worry that issues revolving around safety issues are remaining largely unaddressed and youngsters are being put at risk.
If you are a parent, educator or community activist you can help to safeguard gaming children from online casino and other gaming dangers while exerting influence on the gaming industry to join in the effort to keep kids safe.
The pandemic highlighted the threats that face children who spend time online. Verizon reported that during the pandemic lockdowns and social distancing mandates, video game usage jumped 75% across the United States.
On the one hand, gaming activities were helpful in keeping kids connected with relatives, siblings and friends. On the other hand, the FBI has embarked on a campaign to alert the community to the dangers that the digital world can bring to young, vulnerable minors.
Steven J. Grocki, who leads the child exploitation and obscenity section of the Justice Department noted, “Our society says we’re going to protect kids in the physical world, but we’ve yet to see that in the same way on the digital side.”
The main threats facing young gamers include:
- Cyberbullying and Harassment – The Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Technology and Society reported in 2019 that 66% of players of all ages said that they’d experienced threats of violence, stalking and harassing messages while gaming online. That same year, Christina Gough, a global researcher who specializes in gaming, reported that 23% of teen respondents acknowledged being less social as a result of harassment experienced while playing video games.
- Gambling Addiction – The gaming industry offers many games for free or at a reduced cost but makes their money by selling “loot boxes” and “Non-fungible tokens (NFTs)” – in-game rewards such as costumes, weapons and special characters that players can buy to enhance their gameplay. This can promote addictive gaming behavior but there are no limits on selling these items to minors, raising the worry that young gamers are at risk of gambling addictions.
- Fraud and Hacking – cybercriminals target gamers, hacking into their accounts and stealing their money and identities and using their profiles to contact other potential targets.
- Child Predators – video games, even games designed for kids, offer easy ways for child predators to make contact with children, become their gaming buddies and “friends” and then meet up with them in real life for purposes of exploitation. As the number of young gamers has grown, so has the number of reports of attempts to lure kids via the games including by pretending to be a child, tricking youngsters into revealing personal information and setting up real-life meet-ups.
What to Do?
Aside from taking your family to live in a shack in the forest, are there steps that you can take to protect your children from online risks? Here are some of the most often-cited suggestions for keeping your kids safe when playing video games online.
- Communication – talking openly with your child is one of the most important things that you can do to help secure his/her online presence. The conversation should start as soon as your child starts to access the internet and continue unabated. Ask your child to share things that they see and hear on the Internet including the video content that they are watching, the games that they are playing and most importantly – with whom they are communicating. Discuss your views (and the child’s views) of what is appropriate and talk about what they should do if they experience inappropriate or dangerous behavior. Show them examples of risky behaviors and use examples to warn the child about the dangers that can come from ignoring such dangerous messages and interactions. It’s vital to also teach the child about his/her online reputation, too so that they are aware of how easily a predator can use content against them.
- Monitor – monitor your child’s screentime. Set limits regarding how long they can be online every day and keep all devices in a place where you can see what’s happening at any time. Check your child’s browser history after the child has been online. Make sure that you have the password to all your child’s accounts and read the messages periodically to determine whether someone is targeting or harassing your child. Keep your devices password protected and put filters on your devices to prevent your child from accessing inappropriate content.
- Teach your child social media safety including wariness about what they post and share. Remind them that “stranger danger” applies to social media as well as the real world. Show them real world examples of what happened to kids who shared personal information with Internet “friends” and even scheduled real-world meet-ups with these people. Set an example in your own online presence by never sharing personal information online – privacy experts suggest that you even avoid sharing photos of your family, both for safety reasons and as an example of how to conduct yourself online.
- Limit screen time – according to the Australian Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour Guidelines, children between the ages of 5 and 17 shouldn’t be on the screen for more than 2 hours a day (not including schoolwork). Set an example yourself by limiting your own recreational screen time!
- Encourage your kids to report any cyberbullying or harassing behavior. Teach your child how to avoid responding to such incitements and make sure that your child knows that you have his/her back if someone targets him/her with harassment or bullying.
Check out the net’s best resources for ideas of how to keep kids safe online. They include Web Wise Kids, Netsmartz.org, Privacy Playground: The First Adventure of the Three CyberPigs, Safekids.com, FBI Safe online surfing, Think U Know, Welcome to the Web and NSTeens.